A Startup Is Launching A Practical Electric Motorcycle That Costs Just $1,500

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One of the barriers to getting people into an electric vehicle is upfront cost. Even cheap EVs are more expensive than some can afford, and they’d still have to find a place to charge the thing. Some companies are working on cheaper EVs, and I think I’ve found one of the cheapest that you could buy and actually use. The Roam Air is a gloriously simple motorcycle that can go 56 mph and travel up to 56 miles on a charge all for just $1,500.

Roam was established in 2017 as Opibus. The company formed out of a Swedish technical university project to figure out how to introduce EV tech to emerging markets. Kenya was chosen as the headquarters of the operation and the resulting motorcycles are designed and engineered right there. Roam was able to raise $7.5 million in equity and grants. Now, it says it’s about ready to put its super cheap motorcycle into production.

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Roam says that its goal is to provide electric mobility in Africa. A lot of people in this part of the world get around on little motorcycles and other vehicles that add to the region’s air pollution problems. Roam’s thinking is that if you get enough people into cleaner forms of transport, everyone can breathe a little easier.

One way it intends to do that is with a motorcycle cheap enough for many to afford. So, what do you get with a $1,500 electric motorcycle?

The Roam Air doesn’t really do anything clever. It’s not employing any aerospace materials like a Ryvid and it doesn’t look like it came from the future, either. Instead, when you look at a Roam Air you see a lot of things that look familiar.

Roam

For example, the frame of the Air looks like that of a standard motorcycle. Here, it’s housing up to two battery packs. But cut the cage off and you could easily place a little ICE in there.

The rest of the motorcycle is just as simple. Up front is the kind of fork that you’d find on a 150cc motorcycle, in back is what appears to be a standard swingarm, and you even get drum brakes on both ends.

Nothing here looks extraordinary, futuristic, or even all that custom. The instrument cluster is monochromatic, the wheels are narrow, and the headlight looks like the off-the-shelf unit that some people put on their Jeeps. Roam says that these are designed around affordability and functionality and you can definitely see it.

Roamcluster

The spec sheet is also nothing amazing, but practical. Bolted to the frame is an electric motor putting out 136 lb-ft torque. It’s good for a top speed of about 56 mph. The frame has room for two 3.24 kWh battery packs. The $1,500 version gets you just one pack, and it’s said to be good for up to 56 miles of range. There doesn’t appear to be any regenerative braking, but that makes sense because that would add cost. Adding in the second battery adds $550 to the price. Roam says the second battery approximately doubles the range.

Charging time for these batteries is listed at four hours from the included 240V charger.

Roamfront

Like many small electric motorcycle designs, that file cabinet drawer of a battery can be removed and charged inside at home. Roam sees a lot of buyers being riders who use their motorcycles for deliveries. For that use case, Roam expects the rider to have one battery charging while the other is being used on the bike. Further adding to the practicality of the motorcycle is a rack out back and a 485-lb payload. And the whole package comes in at 298 pounds when set up with one battery.

Roam doesn’t say what these batteries are made of. I reached out for additional information.

Roamside

So, how does this compare to gas-powered motorcycles? Here in America, $1,500 either gets you a beater bike from Craigslist or a 125cc clone motorcycle. In Africa, about $1,000 gets you a new 100cc machine while $1,400 gets you a 150cc motorcycle with a rack for deliveries. The spec sheet of this motorcycle would put it in the 150cc class, so the price seems competitive. And the rider won’t have to worry about oil changes, the price of gas, or engine repairs, either.

Roam says that the first 3,000 deliveries begin later this year in Kenya with a goal of mass-production in 2023. The company also has eyes on other markets in the world. It hasn’t stated where the bikes are going, but I suspect it’s going to other places where cheap bikes sell well. The 150 prototypes are a great sign that this isn’t vaporware, and I hope that these actually reach production. These bikes may be riding on old tech but the price is incredible.

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54 Responses

  1. One of the charities I support is Bicycles for Humanity (https://bicycles-for-humanity.org/en-us). There are chapters in a lot of different places. Anyway, a bicycle for a doctor in Africa can make the difference between visiting one small village a day to visiting three. That’s just one example of how improved mobility can help in Africa. I like this idea in principle. I hope it’s execution is good.

    1. except it would likely feel bad, stubbed even. you still have to find a 240 outlet, each battery still takes 4 hours to charge, and the build quality appears to be two steps down from Alibaba Products. Lots of which are also listed for under $1500.

      1. The cheap Chinese bikes that approximately a bazillion people
        in Africa (at least, the bits I’ve been to) ride also have garbage build quality, but people make it work. Also, this thing looks simple enough that many of the things that might go wrong with it could be repaired by someone with fairly basic skills and tools, which is key for vehicles in the developing world.

        The 240V charger may or may not be a problem, but I’m guessing not for two reasons. One, most motorcycles are ridden in and around cities, where people do have access to electricity. Two, the bike was designed by Kenyans for Kenyans, so you’d think they wouldn’t give it a charging system that was hard for Kenyans to access.

      2. Kenya is all 240 volt. Africa is all 220-240 volt. Most of the world is 220-240 volt. This is not a problem. Why George Westinghouse picked 110 volts for the USA is a whole weird story and demonstrably bad idea.

        1. Not just USA, but all of North America, Central America, parts of South America, Japan, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia.

          Also, it is 230V, not 240V (just like 220V, that’s dated terminology, the spec is 230V +/- a specific percentage).

          The explanation I’ve heard is that when Europe switched from 115V to 230V, it was far easier and cheaper because major appliances like fridges, washing machines and such were less common there. And then it’s obvious why in even less developed countries/areas (Africa) that as they began industrializing and developing later on, they would choose the “better” system.

  2. It looks very practical, and I mean that in a positive way. Built to a purpose without any electro-swoop styling touches. A higher top speed would be nice, just to keep up with traffic flow. For the price though, kudos.

    1. In my experience, people are not using the kind of bikes this is meant to replace on highways. They are primarily used in cities as taxis and delivery bikes. Outside of cities, there isn’t necessarily that much traffic and the road quality may not permit you to get up to this bike’s top speed anyway. I haven’t been to Kenya so maybe I’m off base, but in Cameroon these 150cc Chinese motorbikes were absolutely ubiquitous, and that’s how they were being used. That’s what this is meant to compete with.

  3. Many of the commenters here seem to be judging this bike according to the needs and expectations of American riders. That’s really not relevant. I haven’t been to Kenya specifically, but the places I *have* been to where those 150cc motorcycles are common have *very* different driving situations than here in the US. Think of a scrum of small, cheap motorbikes with two, three, four people riding them, milling about in city traffic wherever they can fit, rarely getting up above 30mph but just constant and everywhere, and being used for stuff that Americans think is impossible without at least an F-150 level vehicle. It’s really very different from how we operate over here.

    1. Right on. I haven’t been to Africa, but I’ve spent time in Turkey and most folks in the US wouldn’t believe what people over there can stuff onto a small motorbike, much less into a small minivan (they don’t call it a “dolmus” for nothing!) I’ve seen a family of 4 with a full load of groceries and a live goat riding on a moped, right in the middle of heavy city traffic. I’ve been crammed with 20 people, several live chickens, plus two hunters carrying ancient firearms and a passel of dead rabbits, in a tiny minivan that people over here wouldn’t put more than 6 adults into (thank the FSM I was near an open window).

      Anyway, I think this seems like a great idea that will hopefully allow people around the world to travel in an energy-efficient manner that also produces fewer toxic fumes (at least locally). In the high likelihood that many people in the countryside are using solar panels to recharge them, this could be hugely beneficial to the environment.

      1. If you have been here awhile or on the old site you know most commenter Don’t really read the whole article or the comments. That’s why plenty of totally out of place comments or repeated ad nauseum comments

      2. The average American’s life is so far reserved from that of a Kenyan bike courier that they can’t bridge the mental gap.

        People default to what they know. If you had an article on scuba equipment for quadriplegics, most of the comments would be about how it’s not applicable to their personal swimming style.

  4. I am not sure that I would be a buyer. The 150cc bike gets 65k/l or about 152 mpg. Pretty good. I also -think- from the appearance, short range, and low cost aspirations of the design that the bike is using lead-acid batteries. Now, I have no ecological objections per se about lead-acid batteries, but I do know (from personal experience) that the combination of a high heat environment and rough roads kill them amazingly quickly. Stealing a quote from a random website:

    “Lead -acid batteries suffer in hot climates. The heat saps water from the battery and causes sulfation, the accumulation of harmful lead-sulfate crystals in the battery. Excessive heat … can also make the battery’s plates buckle.”

    This is a problem in itself but with rough roads, those lead-sulfate crystals get shaken loose from the plates, fall to the bottom of the battery and eventually form a bridge between plates shorting out the battery. In Central America, where I encountered this phenomena , a battery was good for about two years maximum (in a car) and no, they weren’t dumb enough to give long warranties and thus keep giving you free replacements.

    Naturally this would not be a problem if the manufacturers are using Optima batteries as endorsed by this site, as they’re good in high-heat, high-vibration use, but I bet they’re not THAT enlightened.

    So, assuming that you’re on the hook for a new lead-acid battery every couple of years suddenly maintenance costs become -at least- comparable. Then there’s always the problem of charging the bike. Infrastructure in Africa is not generally as sophisticated as in Europe et al. On the other hand, a Coke bottle of borrowed gasoline will get you home.

    FWIW, I’m generally not an early adopter of new technology. I don’t have any objections to electric vehicles; I actually think that they’re good in the right circumstances, but I don’t think they work in the proffered scenario.

    1. You’re right that 156 mi/gal is pretty good, but when you factor in that 1 gallon of gas contains 33.4 kWh, then this bike gets the equivalent of over 500 mpg. Also, it’s definitely NOT using lead-acid batteries. A lead-acid battery of approximately this size can store around 1 kWh of energy. These are almost certainly lithium-ion batteries.

      1. The price of $550 for a second battery definitely rules out lead-acid, as does the 3.24 kWh spec given. I think this is a great idea: proving the tech from bottom-up instead of the usual top-down. If they can prove their idea in tough conditions, moving upscale ought to be fairly easy. Plus, many millions of people rely on motorcycles: if this proves it’s worth long-term, it could well change the world

        1. I think the 298 lb weight with one pack definitely means some sort of sla/gel battery, with this bike being a 72v system, so 6x 12V45Ah batteries 30 lbs each most likely making up 180 of the 298 total lbs of the bike.

    2. Do you know of a lead-acid battery that you can fully recharge in 4 hours without damaging it?

      Also, comparing MPG to a vehicle specifically designed to get rid of anything per gallon feels kinda silly. The goal is to better the air, not just put less fumes into it with a high MPG bike.

    3. Can’t tell if you’re simply racist or just simple. Do you know that batteries exist outside of your standard lead acid and AGM Optima batteries? Or do you just think batteries typically found in e-vehicles are too sophisticated for Africans?

      You “bet they’re not THAT enlightened”, huh? OK, bud, I see you…

  5. I have been to Kenya. Even in Nairobi the power is inconsistent but fuel is available everywhere. Outside of the cities, they are charging their phones with solar panels.

    This looks like a very solid offering at a great price but it is hard to see electric being the current choice for the 3rd world. (no pun intended)

    1. Drum brakes are ubiquitously cheap and can be effectively activated on a motorcycle using a cable. The cable can easily replaced or adjusted with minimal tools. Above all, they don’t rely on hydraulic fluid and the associated tools.

      1. I read the article, and it doesn’t even mention any electric options sold into Africa already, regardless of origin.

        A CSC City Slicker is $2,500

        A Lifan E4 is ~$2,300

        A Lifan E3 is ~$2,000

        Lexmoto has several offerings, one starting around $2,000

  6. I mean, we already have radpower and dozens of Ali express ebike conversion kits and the like, so I think the basic tech concepts are pretty well understood even at the lower end of the cost spectrum. This looks like a promising development of what basically already exists and is pretty exciting. I wish them all the luck.

  7. A general concept I can see this as the short run commuter around town. For example going the gym, out of get a couple of things at the store, etc. Generally if you can fit it in a backpack, this can work.

    Would need to get a charger for it as I have all gas appliances and the only 240 runs my HVAC. 🙂 I don’t want to unplug that to charge my bike (hardwired and all that). That means a second line and upgrading the system to handle that.

    Would be the same if I get an EV car, would have to wire up for a L2 charger or two.

      1. The only issue is the house has the original wiring and was not allocated well. Would mean a series of upgrades. Plus the box is on the other end of the house compared to the driveway.

        I know it can be done, there are just quite a few things that are more important.

  8. “485-lb payload. And the whole package comes in at 298 pounds when set up with one battery.”

    That’s a heck of a big pay load for the weight of the vehicle. Balancing that payload while riding seems like a full time job. Maybe large saddle bags to get the weight a bit lower is the answer?

    1. I can absolutely guarantee you that people will fond a way to put double that amount of weight on the bike on Day One. By the end of the week, they’ll be using it to move house—family included. People load up these bikes the way Americans *think* they are going to load up their trucks but then actually just snap a tonneau cover over the bed and then never, ever, ever take it off. Bikes like this get used as taxis, and they carry three times the passengers of your average Uber here in the US. This thing was built with a high payload capacity for a reason.

  9. All these high priced, super futuristic EVs do nothing for me, but low cost stuff like this? That’s the stuff alright. I don’t need fancy displays and wild tech. Just give me something that works and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

  10. I’ll believe it when I see it. The closest equivalent available in the US is the NIU MQi GT EVO, and it costs over five grand. Sure, it’s way fancier, but you couldn’t strip $3500+ worth of content out of it – the money is in the motor and battery pack.

    1. Well, unless you go to Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda, or the Democratic Republic of Congo you’re probably not going to see it. You should believe it, though. There are 150 of them riding around those countries in their pilot program.
      They also partnered with Uber to provide 3000 bikes.

      Fairly sure its not vaporware.

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